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Hundreds protest China chemical plant: Xinhua
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 4, 2013


Nations pledge to wipe out toxic chemical HBCD
Geneva (AFP) May 03, 2013 - Governments have pledged to work towards ending the use of HBCD, a toxic chemical commonly used as a flame retardant, a global body which oversees the battle against pollution said Friday.

The Stockholm Convention's secretariat said the decision was taken at an international meeting in Geneva.

"This chemical is still widely used," making the move all the more crucial, convention spokesman Michael Jones told AFP, estimating that the process to phase out HBCD would start by the end of 2014.

HBCD is used notably in interior textile fittings for vehicles, as well as packaging materials.

"The decision is set to be adopted formally on the final day of the conference on May 10," said Elisabeth Maret, spokeswoman for the environmental office of Switzerland, which is hosting the meeting.

Campaigners hailed the announcement, underlining that planned measures included not only an end to production but also a ban on reusing products containing HBCD.

"This will prevent materials containing HBCD from being recycled into new products and protect people from contamination that would otherwise cause serious damage to their health," said Mariann Lloyd-Smith of the global watchdog group IPEN.

IPEN cited studies showing that HBCD -- or hexabromocyclododecane -- affects the ability of children to learn and grow because it can harm thyroid function and brain development.

The global fight against pollutants is governed by three conventions named after the cities where they were signed -- Stockholm, Rotterdam and Basel.

Signatories of the three conventions, which have a joint secretariat, kicked off their conference in Geneva last Sunday.

The Stockholm Convention, brokered by the UN Environment Programme, was finalised in the Swedish capital in 2001 and has 179 signatories.

Hundreds of people protested against a proposed chemical plant in southwest China on Saturday, state media said, while residents in another city accused authorities of preventing a similar protest.

More than 200 demonstrators gathered in the city of Kunming to protest plans for a factory which will produce paraxylene (PX), a toxic petrochemical used to make fabrics, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

Around 1,000 people described as "onlookers" surrounded the protesters, some of whom wore face-masks and held banners, the report said, adding that police "dissuaded" a protester from displaying a banner.

Police also lined the streets of Chengdu, the capital of southwest China's Sichuan province, after locals planned to demonstrate over a nearby chemical plant, residents contacted online by AFP said.

"There were a lot of police outside government offices, public spaces and important crossroads in the city," one resident surnamed Liu said, adding that fliers posted around the city in recent days had called for a protest.

"The fliers said the chemical plant has a big impact on people's health," he said, not wanting to give a full name for fear of official reprisals. The government responded with notices calling on people not to demonstrate, Liu said.

Photos posted online showed ranks of police lining the city's streets. Local police on Saturday morning announced that they would be carrying out an earthquake protection drill, a claim dismissed by thousands of Internet users.

"It's about preventing the protest," one user of the popular social networking website Sina Weibo wrote in response to the police notice. "This is the most blatant lie in the history of Chengdu," added another.

Locals online said that the protest did not take place.

Chengdu was shaken last month by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake which struck Lushan county, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) away, killing around 200 people.

Schools and universities in the city were requested to hold extra classes on Saturday, in an apparent attempt to keep people from protesting, several online reports said.

China has seen a number of urban demonstrations against proposed chemical plants in recent years, in what analysts have identified as a rising trend of environmentally-motivated "not in my backyard" protests in China.

Local authorities in the coastal city of Xiamen cancelled plans for a PX plant after thousands took part in a protest in 2007. A huge protest in the northeastern city of Dalian in 2011 prompted authorities to announce a similar climbdown.

The eastern city of Ningbo last year announced the withdrawal of plans for a PX plant after a demonstration involving about 200 people, while a violent protest in the southwestern city of Shifang prompted officials to shelve proposals for a metals factory.

Searches for "Chengdu PX" were blocked on Sina Weibo on Saturday, while posts about the Kunming protest were deleted by online censors. Local police in Chengdu declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

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